thirdeyesight retail consultants india Subscribe by Email  third eyesight retail consultants india rss feeds   |    Facebook  Join the Third Eyesight network on Facebook   |   Contact   |   Sitemap


 

Artisans see fortunes improving as online players like Craftsvilla, Amazon, Flipkart remove need for middlemen

 
 

Richa Maheshwari, The Economic Times

Bengaluru, 20 November 2015

Four years ago, about 500 out of 600 operational handloom silk weavers in Katoria village of Banka district in Bihar had shut shops amid a demand slump and dwindling profits. "It was an exceptionally bad year for us. Many left for Mumbai to look for jobs and youngsters were not keen on taking forward the legacy," recalls Mohammad Izzaz, a weaver whose family too had stopped making Banka silk a year later.

That was then. Today, Izzaz and several other handloom artisans in his village are back in action, weaving Banka silk sarees and dress material for the booming ecommerce market. "One and half years back, on an average, we would earn about Rs 30 per day. Today it has increased to Rs 300 to Rs 400," says Izzaz, 25, who supplies to Indianroots.com and indianartizans.com.

Currently hundreds of Katoria residents are migrating back to the village and weavers say around 150 otherwise mothballed handlooms have restarted in the last one year.

Similar stories of revival in interest are emerging from traditional handloom clusters across the countrybe it Paithan in Maharashtra or Phulia in West Bengal, both known for their handwoven silk sareeswith ecommerce companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jaypore and Craftsvilla giving them a new lease of life by helping them to reach out to customers all over the country as well as abroad.

Leading ecommerce firms have already tied up with nearly 7,000 weavers to sell their products on their platforms and the number is growing keeping with rising demand.

Amazon India, which launched a craft store before its festive sales last month, has enlisted about 90 weavers and recorded a threefold surge in demand during the festive season, its category leader Mayank Shivam said.

India accounts for 95% of the world's handwoven fabrics and, according to the textile ministry's estimates, handloom weaving provides employment to more than 4.3 million weavers and allied workers in the country.

But, with powerlooms and branded products sweeping the consumer markets with cheaper products and newer designs, the handloom industry has been going downhill over the years, forcing many weavers in several traditional handloom hubs to migrate to other regions and professions to earn their livelihood. According to a labour ministry report, employment in the handloom/powerloom sector declined by 11,000 as of March 2015 from a year earlier.

With the entry of ecommerce players, artisans can hope for a revival in their fortunes as they get direct access to consumers around the world and that too without having to deal with middlemen.

In June, Snapdeal partnered with Himachal Pradesh government to launch a 'special ecommerce zone' to facilitate sale of local handicraft and other products while Flipkart has launched 'India Art House' to push traditional fashion.

Mumbai-based Craftsvilla, which has around 150 artisans supplying art and craft to them, is working towards creating its own private label where base-level weavers and artisans will make products exclusively for them. "A lot of the traditional handwoven designs have become old-fashioned," said Manoj Gupta, founder of Craftsvilla. "We need to contemporise it for our young shoppers. Thus, we are hiring NIFT designers to become the voice of ethnic designs," he said.

The online industry is not only helping weavers expand nationally but they are also proving a window of opportunity to sell their products in the global market. That means the sellers don't necessarily depend on seasonality.

Rahul Narvekar, CEO of Indianroots.com, said the portal gets most of its orders from abroad, adding that it sold a handwoven stole worth Rs 19 lakh in Malaysia a few months back.

Manish Ramakant, a weaver of Paithani silk sarees, said his business has grown by 40% last year on the back of online orders from abroad. "Demand for Paithani sarees is the highest during the wedding season; rest of the months, we remained unemployed. However, online international orders now ensures work round the clock today," he said.

With the newfound markets and vigour, Ramakant, 39, has now ventured into home decor and has started interacting with buyers and designers through Whatsapp.

Experts point out that ecommerce players help handloom weavers overcome their biggest challenge: easy and quality access to consumers.

At present handloom products are mostly sold through central and state government emporiums. "The emporiums, run by bureaucrats, are not well maintained. Hence, there is hardly any good retail outlet for artisans," said Arvind Singhal, chairman and managing director of consultancy firm Technopak.

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight, said the government should get out of retail business. "Business is not a government's job. Its job is to run the country," he said. "The supplier, distributor and the consumer make an ecosystem. Hence, this has to be individual and business-led. I think the government should get out of the way."

Also, with most ecommerce players dealing directly with traditional weavers, artisans are earning better margins that would otherwise go to middlemen.

"I was affected by middlemen. Now, for the past one-and-half years I have been working directly with designers and online companies. I have cut down nearly 60% of middlemen," said Asif Ansari who makes Maheshwari sarees. This has helped the weaver from Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh improve his margin to 35%-40% from earlier 15%-20%.

However, the world of ecommerce is not without any tension for handloom weavers. Fear of duplication and lack of awareness among consumers are among the main issues weavers face in the online retail space. This sometimes force them to cut down their margins.

What is applicable to Katoria's Banka silk weavers is applicable to any other industry or trade facing challenges of demand. One of the problems facing many quality traditional sectors is the absence of information about such products, especially luxury or niche items as well as non-traditional art and craft. This is where online retail, which doubles as shop and catalogue, can be helpful. If online companies resurrect traditional sari production, they can certainly do the same for artwork and handicrafts that need to find their markets which are probably just waiting 'to be told' that they are there to be procured.

(Published in The Economic Times.)

 
© Copyright Third Eyesight All Rights Reserved